Dietary risks in young elite swimmers.
This month a study has been published on the diet of teenaged swimmers, training and competing on UK Regional and National Development Squads . The research found that although most nutrient needs were met, the swimmers had an average energy deficit of around 900Kcal a day and significant deficiencies in fibre, vitamin A, and selenium. It concluded that “this data would suggest that nutritional practices in this group of amateur swimmers were less than optimal when seeking to sustain peak performance”. Several studies of college-age elite swimmers have shown similar results with many running at an energy deficit and with diets typically too high in fat (over 35%), too low in carbohydrate (below 50%) and a deficient in several micronutrients, including calcium, zinc, and iron [6-9].
How do you feed a young competitive swimmer?
Usually when we look at sports nutrition, the staring point is to look at the basic diet and to compare the energy taken in, with the energy used. The biggest difference between an athletes needs and the general population being in the quantity of energy burnt. This calculation is complicated in swimmers however, as the energy requirement used for swimming at a given speed, varies considerably from person to person and depends on the skill of the swimmer, their economy of movement in the water, the stroke used and the effort applied  as well as their size, weight and shape. Very approximately the energy costs of swimming range from 5Kcal/min for a recreational backstroker/breaststroker or 11Kcal/min for a recreational freestyle swimmer to 23Kcal/min for a competitive trained swimmer at full speed in any stroke. Research in competitive adult swimmers has shown daily energy usages of between 25% & 100% higher than comparable non-swimmers with burns of around 525Kcal/hr. This energy demand must be matched by a balanced diet if performance is to be optimised and the body allowed to recover properly after each session [2-4].
Even within the ‘Long Term Athlete Development’ frame work, because swimming is an early specialisation sport, it is not uncommon for swimmers in their teens to have similar training commitments to elite adult swimmers . Given that adolescence is a time of increased nutritional demands to meet growth, as well as a time when parents begin to have less control over what is eaten, maintaining a balanced dietary intake may be especially problematic in adolescent swimmers .
Swimming and immunity
Care should be taken that young competitive swimmers are eating enough food to meet their energy requirements and that they eat a balanced diet that contains enough fibre, minerals and vitamins. Knowing how much energy a swimmer is burning during training is notably hard and training often disrupts meal times but special care should be taken to ensure levels of key nutrients are available. particularly those important for immune function. Please contact me if you would like to discuss your diet and how it can be adjusted to fit in with your training commitments.
 Inge & Brukner 1986. Food For Sport : A nutrition guide for sportsmen, sportswomen, coaches and parents. Kingswood Press